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An open letter to the leaders of the EU

July 16, 2016 2:29 PM
By Mark Goodrich in Liberal Democrat Voice

I get it. I really do. We have been a difficult partner for the whole time we have been in the EU and its predecessors. And after the Brexit referendum vote, you had to put up with Nigel Farage being his usual unpleasant self in the European Parliament. You should know that many of us felt exactly the same as Mr Vytenis Andriukaitis whose facepalm went viral on social media (and we enjoyed his heartfelt blog as well).

So, I understand it when you demand that the UK get on and serve an Article 50 notice. You want us to get on with it. But I ask you to think again.

When I think of the Article 50 notice, I think of a scene in the Batman movie "The Dark Knight". The Joker has rigged two ships full of explosives, one of hardened criminals and one of innocent civilians. Each ship has a trigger to blow up the other one and save themselves. The Tory leadership are like the boat of criminals - torn between a desire to trigger Article 50 to save their own skins and the consequences if they do.

One thing that I have heard a lot is that serving an Article 50 notice will reduce uncertainty. That can't be right. If an Article 50 notice is served without a deal already being worked out in outline, uncertainty will massively increase because of the risk of a "Hard Brexit" in two years' time.

The British Prime Minister is now Theresa May. You may be confused why negotiations will be led by a Remain supporter. This is because the three "stars" of the Leave campaign proved themselves incapable. First, Michael Gove killed off the challenge of Boris Johnson by saying he was not up to the job. The effect of this act of treachery was to kill off his own campaign. Finally, the sole remaining Leave candidate, Andrew Leadsom's candidacy blew up after embellishing her CV and insulting childless people. The failure of the Leave campaign to have a credible candidate for Prime Minister tells you everything you need to know about the dishonesty and incoherence of their campaign.

Theresa May has made it clear that she would much rather have pre-negotiations before triggering Article 50. Even the new minister for Brexit wants consultations (although not with you). But consulting with Scotland, Gibraltar and Northern Ireland will give him the firm message that they want to stay in the EU.

So, I ask you to forget about the Article 50 notice and instead have informal discussions with an open mind to see what can be salvaged of the relationship. There is a major contradiction in the Leave case which needs time to become clear. Lord Ashcroft's detailed polling showed that the top reasons were (1) the principle that decisions about the UK should be taken in the UK and (2) control of migration. So, the EEA requirements of following EU legislation (but with no possibility of influencing it) and being required to accept EU migrants is anathema to them. On the other hand, very recent polling from ComRes shows that a clear majority of voters want access to the single market prioritised over curbs on migration. Squaring that circle is going to need some creative thinking not the binary process we could well have under Article 50.

* Mark Goodrich is a former vice-chair of Richmond & Twickenham Liberal Democrats and now lives in Seoul, South Korea